Center for American Progress

Right Wing Attacks 9/11 Commission, Commissioners and Witnesses

Right Wing Attacks 9/11 Commission, Commissioners and Witnesses

As the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States – the 9/11 Commission – continues its investigation, conservatives have called into question the integrity of the commission, commission members, and witnesses who have testified. These conservative attacks follow the usual pattern: discrediting anyone who challenges the Bush Administration in any way. Just ask former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson or former Army Chief-of-Staff General Eric Shinseki.

DELAY ATTACKS 9/11 PANEL FOR ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is playing his usual role of right-wing ringmaster by leading the charge to malign the commission with unsubstantiated accusations of partisanship. DeLay said, "Some commissioners' tactics during questioning have served to distort witness statements, cut off witness answers and otherwise blur the distinction between the commission's work and a prime-time cable talk show." He also stretched the story by claiming that "the politicization of the commission undermines the war effort [in Iraq] and endangers our troops." [Congressional Quarterly, 4/16/04]

ASHCROFT ATTEMPTS TO SHIFT BLAME TO GORELICK: Attorney General John Ashcroft used his appearance before the 9/11 Commission to launch a personal attack on Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1997. Ashcroft surprised the commission and sandbagged Gorelick by releasing a memo she authored in 1995, claiming that it created "the single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem." But contrary to Ashcroft's assertion, Gorelick's memo intended to facilitate communication within the FBI, helping to overcome existing restrictions on information sharing with their roots in the Reagan and Bush I Administrations. Moreover, under questioning by the commission, Ashcroft later admitted that "his own deputy attorney general, Larry Thompson, had renewed the terms of the Gorelick memo in August 2001." A senior member of the commission staff called the memo Ashcroft declassified "a red herring." [Washington Post, 4/13/04 and 4/20/04]

SESENBRENNER IMPUGNS GORELICK, THEN GETS REBUKED BY REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: Archconservative House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) appeared on Fox News and called on Gorelick to resign and stand as a witness before the 9/11 Commission because of her Bush Administration-endorsed memo. But Republican 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean "dismissed the request and said Gorelick was one of the hardest-working and nonpartisan members of the commission. He also said she had recused herself from involvement in issues on which she worked while serving in government" – a policy that stands for all commission members with prior government experience. [AP, 4/14/04]

HERITAGE FOUNDATION QUESTIONS NEED FOR 9/11 COMMISSION: The Heritage Foundation is serving as a forum for conservative columnists who are attacking the existence of the 9/11 Commission. "Let's shut down the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — the September 11 Commission. After all, what's the point?," wrote columnist Rich Tucker. Paul Rosenzweig wrote that the Commission is "unseemly" for publicizing its work, even though the publicity is being urged by Republican Chairman Tom Kean who "believes the only way to force the government to change is to get the public alarmed and angry at the dysfunctional way the agencies now are operating." [Heritage Foundation, 4/15/04 & 4/16/04; Scripps Howard News Service, 4/16/04]

MURDOCH MACHINE OVERLOOKS FACTS IN COMMENTING ON TESTIMONY: In an unusual front-page editorial in his New York Post, Australian right-wing billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his media machine attacked Democratic 9/11 commissioners as "shills." The editorial then went on to make factually inaccurate claims. For instance, it said that pre-9/11 "intelligence reports all talked about attacks occurring against targets overseas," and that "it clearly was not a fact that President Bush was warned against possible attacks in this country." The editorial then accused Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste of slander for saying as much. But Ben-Veniste was entirely accurate: the bipartisan 9/11 congressional inquiry found the Administration received warnings of a possible homeland attack in May 2001, and the President was personally warned on August 6 of "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." The August 6 briefing also warned of the possibility "that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives." [NY Post, 4/14/04; Joint Congressional Report, 12/02; Presidential Daily Briefing, 8/6/01]

FRIST ATTACKS CLARKE, THEN IS CONTRADICTED BY PARTY COLLEAGUES: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate claiming that former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who testified before the 9/11 Commission, "told two entirely different stories" about the Bush Administration's handling of terrorism. Frist implied Clarke had perjured himself by purportedly telling two different stories under oath – first to Congress in 2002 and then to the 9/11 Commission this year – and threatened severe consequences "if it is found that he has lied before Congress." But First soon admitted "that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies" between the two testimonies. Soon, Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) contradicted Frist and said that "Clarke's testimony before a joint congressional panel on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not contradict his later testimony" before the 9/11 Commission. [Floor Speech, 3/26/04; Slate, 3/27/04; The Hill, 4/14/04]

For information about White House efforts to prevent the formation and impede the work of the 9/11 Commission, visit this American Progress media release.

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